On “putting Christ back in Christmas”Posted: December 26, 2014
I should preface this post by saying that I’m more or less indifferent (not against, just indifferent) toward Christmas as a Christian holiday, and totally disgusted by it as a retail season. It does serve a purpose as a time when family and friends can get together – sometimes for the only time in an entire year – and I have no problem with that. In fact, I participate on that level, and I’ve received a few gifts for which I’m extremely grateful (one was a pen hand-made and given to me by the child of a co-worker… it’s awesome!). Of course there’s the cheesy Christmas card, and we do give the little kids practical things. Where the adults are concerned, we try to do something more in line with Matthew 25:40. After all, who else’s birthday can you think of where everybody except the birthday boy gets the presents? But Christmas as a religious celebration has a rather checkered past and some dubious origins, not to mention the fact that nowhere in the Bible is there a command or even a suggestion (not even from Jesus himself) to celebrate his birth. In fact, it doesn’t appear that it was celebrated by the Church at all until the 3rd or 4th century (Jesus did however tell his disciples to commemorate his death by celebrating the Lord’s Supper). So that explains my indifference to Christmas the Christian holiday. More than one person has asked me if I hate Jesus’ birthday. I don’t hate Jesus’ birthday (whenever that may be, but rest assured it’s very unlikely it was on December 25th). It was obviously important that Jesus was born into this world, because without his birth there could be no death and resurrection. It’s just that celebrating it wasn’t all that important to the biblical writers (or to Jesus), especially compared to observing his death and resurrection. So just to be clear, I love the fact that Jesus came down from glory, took on human form and was born into poverty and squalor in order to live a sinless life and be the perfect sacrifice for my sins.
But there’s a war on Christmas going on, in case you haven’t heard from Fox News, American Family Association and a number of others that are offended that everyone in this country doesn’t celebrate it as the commemoration of the birth of Jesus (truth be told, there’s been a “war on Christmas” ever since Herod set out to kill the infant Jesus). And apparently the folks waging today’s war on Christmas must be winning, because now there’s a movement afoot to put Christ back in Christmas. It’s a noble idea on the face of it, but if you look at the reasons why the most vocal talking heads are pushing it, it loses a lot of its luster.
A couple of months ago as I was Googling Christmas pictures for one of our kids, I came across this image by a guy known only as Banksy, a London-based street artist. I don’t know anything about his spiritual beliefs or if he even has any, but this image has been stuck in my head for months. It illustrates for me the problem with the whole “put Christ back in Christmas” movement, at least as it’s been propagated by certain people and media outlets. It seems to me that folks are easily offended by cashiers that say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” and stores selling holiday trees instead of Christmas trees, for starters. I somehow can’t imagine that God is offended because businesses aren’t turning a buck in his son’s name. In fact, I think he just might be offended that they are. Black Friday and the image of Jesus being born in a feeding trough in a middle eastern backwater to impoverished parents somehow don’t go hand-in-hand. But to hear some tell it, Jesus is the reason for binge-spending season. There are various theories concerning the origins of the gift-giving traditions of Christmas; from the gifts that the Magi brought to Jesus, to the story of the real St. Nicholas, but what the Christmas season has been turned into doesn’t in any way resemble either of those. I get that the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is when most retailers hope to get in the black, but if a store that operates for 12 months depends on that 30+ day stretch to turn a profit for the entire year, maybe they need a different business model.
Some folks are also offended that government entities refuse to display manger scenes (or if they do, also allow non-Christian displays alongside), or because some public schools have curtailed any Christian interpretations of the holiday. I don’t know about you, but I’m not the least bit comfortable with the government putting its stamp of approval on my expressions of faith. Make no mistake, if they can endorse it today they can dictate its terms tomorrow… and they sure as heck can outlaw it next week.
I can’t imagine that our faith is so fragile that we need retail employees,city councils or school administrators to sanction our beliefs. Do we really feel persecuted because not everybody else observes the season the same way we do? We have no idea what persecution for the sake of Jesus is, friends. Middle Eastern Christians can tell us what it’s like. Chinese and North Korean believers know it all too well. “Happy Holidays” isn’t persecution. Winter solstice displays on the town square aren’t persecution. Neil deGrasse Tyson getting his holiday jollies by annoying believers on Twitter is definitely not persecution (although it was ironic on a couple of levels… that one of the most brilliant people in the world is rather juvenile at times, and that he trolled Christians by invoking the birthday of Isaac Newton, who while having far-from-orthodox religious beliefs, did maintain that God created the universe… an unthinkable premise for Tyson). In any event, no worthwhile change can be effected on behalf of the Kingdom of God by getting our feelings hurt and rallying around some ranter’s call to “take back Christmas.” Lasting change only happens within the hearts of men and women, and being contentious and antagonistic will not change a single person’s heart… except maybe to harden it to the gospel we claim to profess.
I sincerely hope you had a blessed Christmas. I really do. I don’t begrudge you a single Christmas present that you received or bought. I really don’t. Just as I believe that Christians have no reason to get offended by the practices of people who celebrate Christmas differently or not at all, I am not offended that you celebrate it differently than I do, and I hope no one is offended by the way I spend mine (but if they do, that’s really between them and God 🙂 ).
The bottom line is this… if Christ is the reason you celebrate Christmas, nobody can take that away from you. I pray you have a blessed 2015, and that you look for every opportunity to be a blessing to “the least of these” 365 days of the year!